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Darkest Hour

History is often written by the victors. If the losers are worthy adversaries then they receive recognition too. The Second World War had many winners and losers with both marking their place in history. One of the ‘winners’ was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose stoic presence galvanized a nation. ‘Darkest Hour’ explores the early months of Britain’s leader. Showing his strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, the war-time leader’s struggles are starkly revealed in an engaging film.

Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) faces a dire threat. Beginning his Prime Ministership of Great Britain in 1940, he leads a country at war. Battling the German Nazi invasion and doubters in his own cabinet, it’s Churchill’s task to unite a quickly fracturing nation and political party. With his wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and King George (Ben Mendelsohn) looking on, Churchill is determined to become the leader his country needs in times of great crisis.

‘Darkest Hour’ gives much for Gary Oldman to sink his acting teeth into. A consummate performer, he successfully embodies Churchill’s determined strength. Whilst occasionally you feel you’re watching Oldman and not the role he’s playing, he provides enough emotional weight to a multi-faceted person. He is ably supported by Scott Thomas and Mendelsohn who give excellent performances. They could have been given more to do however as ‘Darkest Hour’ rests a little too much on Oldman’s shoulders despite his solid performance.

Joe Wright directs with a steady assurance making this history lesson absorbing. Unlike other Churchill biopics, ‘Darkest Hour’ explores the domestic political drama of his early reign rather than the plight of those on the battlefields. This enables a better understanding of Churchill’s actions and why he fought resolutely against the scourge of advancing evil. The script’s factual and fictional elements are reasonably blended well even if the latter veers towards fanciful sentimentality negating some authenticity.

Although having occasional ‘flag-waving nationalism’ which becomes a bit irritating, ‘Darkest Hour’ has much to commend. It differentiates itself from similar movies and has a great lead in Oldman. ‘Darkest Hour’ gives better insight into the Churchill enigma whose refusal to surrender to destructive forces is a lesson politicians of all persuasions still should learn.

Rating out of 10: 7

Jigsaw

After seven films, the never-ending ‘Saw’ horror franchise finally ended in 2010. A leader in the ‘torture porn’ genre, its bloody visions raked up a mountain of ghoulish dollars. Whether people enjoyed watching that sort of thing didn’t matter as the series became one of the most profitable horror franchises ever. That’s why we now have ‘Jigsaw’, the eighth gory extravaganza. Proof that money can resurrect any stagnant movie series, it shows one should never believe a movie’s ‘final chapter’ is really the end.

A decade after his evil reign ended, serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is back. That’s what the police are led to believe as a new series of murders fitting his pattern surface. They are baffled as Jigsaw met a definitive end with his deadly earnest killings seemingly concluded after his death. Unfortunately that’s little comfort to new victims including Logan (Matt Passmore) and Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) who are trapped in one of his wicked torture chambers with death their only merciful escape.

It would be simple slamming ‘Jigsaw’ as violent rubbish but that’s taking the easy way out. Whilst the violence is more subdued than usual, it’s still ghastly to watch. To its credit ‘Jigsaw’ harks back to the original concept of the ‘Saw’ series. This outing is more mystery and suspense than endless gore as characters try to discover who is behind the slayings. The answer isn’t easy to guess as the script makes an effort in building on the established mythology with genuinely surprising twists.

The traps Jigsaw’s victims navigate are very hellish and part of the grotesque ‘fun’. The creativity gone into crafting new vile ways to kill might be concerning but the overall story maintains interest. There are plot holes galore if you think too hard but the franchise has never been known for its amazing story-telling. The performances are reasonable even if the actors mostly just react to events than instigating them. Bell has a grand time returning as the evil disciple of carnage with his calm and frosty demeanour almost as chilling as the traps he sets.

‘Jigsaw’ might not provide a charming night at the cinema but devotees should admire it. Whether this is ‘the end’ again remains to be seen. Only box office dollars will tell if Jigsaw returns for more brutality with the prospects of further sequels scarier than the series’ main antagonist.

Rating out of 10: 6